Gdynia’s urban art – a few words about Traffic Design

Gdynia is probably the least touristy of the three cities forming the Gdańsk Bay metropolitan area. In the summertime the Old Town in Gdańsk or Sopot’s Heroes of Monte Cassino street attract definitely bigger crowds than the sea boulevard of Gdynia. It does not mean, however, that Gdynia is a sleepy town during the summer period – quite the contrary. Its most visited areas are the already mentioned boulevards, the Orłowo cliff or the city port. People interested in arts and culture will not be bored either while visiting Gdynia. In the summertime the city hosts a lot of interesting events such as Gdynia Design Days, Plener Literacki (book fair) and the City of the Word Festival (Festiwal Miasto Słowa) during which Gdynia Literary Prize is awarded. Gdynia also has a few theatres and museums and those interested in a beautiful architecture will gladly follow the Gdynia Trail of Modernism. Speaking of themed trails and walks, I would like to suggest an alternative one – for anyone interested in discovering the less touristy parts of Gdynia. If, like myself, you like the kind of art that goes beyond the walls of museums and galleries to become an element of the public space, you should definitely become familiar with Gdynia’s urban art and, in particular, the works of Traffic Design.

Traffic Design– who are they and how do they contribute to Gdynia’s urban art?

Traffic Design is an association based in Gdynia. In cooperation with known artists and designers they create art installations in urban areas. Their most recognizable works are murals, neon signs and sculptures displayed in places available to everyone: on the walls, in pocket parks or town squares. These small forms of art pair well with the modernist architecture of Gdynia. But it’s not only the aesthetic aspect that counts – every project carries a message. Some works refer to the culture and literature of the Pomerania region, some others allude to historical events or commemorate people who have played a role in Gdynia’s past or who have contributed somehow to its development. Some forms of art invite the passers-by to reflect on environmental issues or on problems faced on a daily basis by Gdynia’s inhabitants.

Traffic Design work toward improving the aesthetics of everyday life in urban areas, toward achieving harmony and cohesion in designing the places we live in and operate within. Their works stand in opposition to what unfortunately is still present in the Polish landscape: very bright colours, giant billboards, newly created elements not adapted to the existing neigbourhood and local context. The objects designed by artists cooperating with Traffic Design are mostly minimalist when it comes to colours and shapes, but the concept and local context play a crucial role in each of them.

One of the best known projects of the association is re:design. Artists cooperating with Traffic Design create new visual identification for small local businesses. New signboards – elegant and tastefully designed – decorate and revive the urban space and, at the same time, help these sometimes forgotten places to attract attention and perhaps also new clients. It is not easy these days to keep a small business afloat, if you don’t have resources like big shopping centres or international companies. That’s why I really appreciate the fact that Traffic Design helps small craftmens’s shops to become visible. It is especially important these days, when we receive so many bad news about the condition of our planet. Shopping locally and repairing the things we already have (rather than buying new ones) is one of the small steps we can take to reduce our negative impact on the environment.

Traffic Design co-host Gdynia Design Days as well as the Biennale of Design & Urban Art. Recently they have opened their office at Żeromskiego street in Gdynia. The building is not only the association’s official address but also an art gallery where a few temporary exhibitions have already taken place.

If you would like to take a walk in Gdynia and see some of Traffic Design’s works below I describe two routes that you could take to see quite a lot of them on your way. I have chosen two districts that I know the best – St. Maximilian’s Hill and the city centre (Śródmieście). Let’s start with the Hill! Place your cursor on the photo to find out more about each installation.

St. Maximilian’s Hill

Let’s start our walk at Grottgera street. There, on a wall of the elementary school number 23 you can easily spot a mural called “Interspecies community”. Its author is Małgorzata Gurowska – graduate and lecturer of the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. In her works, she often focuses on species other than human – often ignored or exploited by people.

“Interspecies community” is a mural designed by Małgorzata Gurowska. The mural depicts a big tree but it also includes wooden nest boxes for birds, for example sparrows.

Then you can walk to Focha street. It is a smal historical street with a very unique architecture – it is composed of a group of terraced houses. In the beginning of the 20th century its inhabitants were architects in charge of building of the district today known as St. Maximilian’s Hill (but in the past it was Marshal Foch’s Hill). This way, this small street triggered the growth of the entire living district.

A new visual identification for Focha street has been created by Traffic Design’s in-house artists: Renata Maj, Eugenia Tynna, Jacek Wielebski and Paweł Wiśniewski.

Since these historical times, the street has significantly changed – a big number of architectural and decorative elements appeared, but altogether they created rather a chaotic impression. That’s why, in cooperation with the local community and with the city of Gdynia, Traffic Design proposed a new visual identification of the street. In this place you will not find any murals or neon signboards; this time designers focused on details such as fences, house numbers and handrails. The common elements of these details are colours (in fact one colour – black), materials and visually harmonious style. It does not mean however that all backyards now look identical. Quite the contrary – every house has details in different shapes, thanks to which the street became visually coherent, but without losing the unique character of each household.

Our next stop is Biskupa Dominika street. Walk until you see the town library (“Biblioteka”) on your left. You will notice a small square in which the installation “Fog comber” is displayed.

The Fog Comber designed by Łukasz Berger Cekas decorates the pocket park next to the town library at Dominika Street. The installation alludes to a short story written by Salcia Hałas – a writer based in Gdynia, awarded with Gdynia Literary Prize in 2017.

If you cross Dominika street and climb the stairs leading to a passage between buildings, you will notice that the passage creates a gate or an entrance to a district. On the ceiling of this gate you will notice a group of neon signboards designed by a graphic studio – Full Metal Jacket, also in cooperation with Traffic Design.

Then you can walk to Harcerska street. There you will find a tiny meadow, where among high growing grass you can spot bright colours of an artistic installation called “Pedestrians are human beings, too”.

Our last stop at St.Maximilian’s Hill will be at the crossing of Hallera and Zwycięstwa street. There, in a small park alongside the Tricity’s main artery you will meet a giantess called Stolemka.

Stolemka is an installation designed by Stach Szumski – a young artist graduated from Warsaw’s Academy of Fine Arts. “Stolemka” represents a giantess and refers to folk legends from the Kaszuby region to which Gdynia belongs. When it comes to the metal form of the installation, it was inspired by Polish backyards’ infrastructure and children’s playgrounds from the good old times.

Gdynia City Centre

If you have taken a bus from Wzgórze, you can get off at the stop “Traugutta”. There cross the street and turn right. You will see a pink signboard on the Millenium bank – when you reach it, turn left and around the corner you will meet a jellyfish!

The jellyfish designed by Adela Madej is an example of artistic metalwork. The form of this work alludes to the owner of the building who is a scientist and, as a part of his job, studied marine life in the Baltic Sea.

Afterwards, you can continue your walk in the same direction, towards the city centre. Soon on your left (at Abrahama 51a) you will spot a big mural dedicated to the Polish artist – Karol Śliwka.

Karol Śliwka was a famous Polish graphic designer. He lived in the region of Silesia and in Warsaw, not in Gdynia. However, in 2018 the Museum of Gdynia organised an exhibition dedicated to this artist. The mural is composed of logos created by Karol Śliwka and the mural itself was designed by a Polish artist from younger generation – Patryk Hardziej.

Then, I suggest to move to Starowiejska street – you can walk or take a bus to get there. 

At Starowiejska 37, there is a fabric store called Bławatek, for which Traffic Design arranged a neon signboard.

The neon signboard for the store has been designed by artists from Syfon Studio – Urszula and Filip Tofile.

Right across the street, at Starowiejska 42, there is a store of sewing machines, active since 1948. 

This black signboard is another example of metalwork. It has been designed by artists from Typy Studio, based in Tricity.

Right around the corner, on a wall of the building located at Starowiejska 38 you can see another mural – this time, by a famous Polish illustrator and painter Jan Bajtlik. 

Letters on the mural form a phrase in Polish and English – Rezerwat rzemieślników Carftsmen’s reserve Gdynia. The form of the letters allude to elements typical for Gdynia and in general – seaside landscape. The mural of Jan Bajtlik is a tribute to local craftsmen, running their businesses in this area of the city.

From many projects carried out in Gdynia by Traffic Design I have the ones that I frequently pass by or those particularly close to my heart. However, there are many more – I can tell you that the association’s works are present also in other cities in Poland. You can find more by visiting their website. I encourage you to have a look around and find more of Traffic Design’s works. If you have your favourite pieces of art or know other examples of urban art (preferably inspired by ecology and sustainability related ideas), please let me know – either in the comments section or via the contact form.

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